Office of Personnel Management Can’t Manage to Keep a Secret

Weeknights at the Round Robin Bar tend to be quiet, uncrowded and convivial – unless it’s a Friday, when things become a bit more, shall we say, kinetic. Last night should have been one of the former, naturally, but it definitely wasn’t. When I walked in, there were Horn and Hardart, going at it hammer and tongs.
“You bastard!” Horn complained, pounding his fist on the bar. “OPM paid Microsoft Federal eight figures for software and support, and God damn it, that was supposed to include some [expletive] security!”
“Read the EULA,” Hardart retorted. “The software product is provided ‘as is’ and without specific guarantee in whole or part, expressed or implied!”
“Now I know why you joined Congressional Country Club!” Horn accused. “You did it so you could play golf with the GS-15’s and members of the SES who make the IT decisions in the big federal agencies! And that’s why I always beat you by two or three strokes, wasn’t it?”
“Okay,” Hardart proudly crowed, “you want the truth – you’ll get it! Yeah, I always let you win! It’s Software Marketing 101, as a matter of fact, and exactly what the IBM salesmen used to do back in the day – play golf with the IT director and make sure he wins! Well, what do I care, huh? Because for the last week, you’ve been sitting in an office with no windows with nothing do to! And now, I’ll never have to lose another [expletive] golf game to you as long as I live, because OPM is going to transfer your sorry [expletive] to Pocatello, Idaho or some place like that to oversee federal employment for the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service or some such pathetic [expletive] and your wife’s going to leave you and you know what? I’m going to [expletive] that [expletive] while you rot in bureaucratic Siberia, just to spite you!”
“You’re being facetious, of course,” I interjected, shortly before Horn was about to grab Hardart by his silk tie and paste him a good one right in the kisser in the middle of the Round Robin Bar, which would have been a hideous scandal and a scathing embarrassment to both OPM and Microsoft Federal, I’m sure. Hardart is one of my regular clients, after all. Not that I’m terribly concerned about what might constitute hideous scandal and scathing embarrassment to Microsoft, though – in my experience, scandal is their cost of doing business and Microsoft’s capacity for embarrassment is akin to that of the typical patient with Asperger’s syndrome. Apparently, in our society, as Bill Gates proved, it’s okay to be a white collar criminal as long as you’re mildly autistic and therefore can convince everybody you had no idea you were breaking the law. Establish a business model of stealing the ideas behind other firms’ successful software products, crush them with illegal collusion schemes, pressure hardware manufacturers and distributors to bundle your operating system with your browser and the stolen applications, accumulate a huge and totally undeserved market share, then back up your perfidy with an army of expensive lawyers. After that, all you need to do is hire a legion of greedy, amoral brigands to market your substandard imitation crap and put a rapacious sociopath like Steve Ballmer in charge of them. What’s really sad, unfortunately, is that Microsoft is the perfect example of the American Way circa the early twenty-first century. Consequently, I’d advise anybody who is thinking of coming here, being creative in high tech and working hard at it to get rich – if your soul harbors the least scintilla of honesty or integrity, forget it – the Bill Gates’s and the Steve Ballmers, the Elon Musks and the Mark Zuckerbergs that litter the American business landscape like so many ravenous feral dogs will chew you up, spit you out and urinate on your mangled remains.
“In fact, I’m not entirely sure,” Hardart snickered as Horn huffed in rage, his face as red as a beet. “Scumbag!” he shouted at Hardart. “You didn’t just screw up my life – you screwed up the lives of four million federal employees!”
“There’s nothing Microsoft can do to compensate for their innate stupidity!” Hardart shot back. “If some sneaky comrade in the Communist Chinese cyber-cadres sends a spear-phising email to some GS-11 moron at OPM that says Katherine Archuleta needs their user name and password, and they proceed to type in their user name and password and then hit the [expletive] Reply button, everybody at Microsoft could be [expletive] Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II and it wouldn’t do OPM a [expletive] bit of good!”
“Actually,” I pointed out, “those four million federal employees are just the tip of the iceberg. The White House already knows that personal information sufficient for identity theft was hacked from OPM files not only for federal employees, not only for federal contractors, not only for anybody who has ever filed an SF-86 federal security clearance application, but also for anybody that OPM obtained personal information about during a background investigation – spouses, relatives, employers, co-workers, next door neighbors, ninth-grade English teachers, you name it.”

“So what?” Hardart scoffed. “What did they get, anyhow? Names, addresses, phone numbers… stuff the federal employees’ union probably has posted on their Web site anyway. Big deal.”
“Obviously,” I observed, “you’ve never filled out an SF-86. Sure, the hackers – whoever they were, and, by the way, I’m not entirely convinced they were the Chinese government, or even Chinese at all, for that matter – of course they got the name of every federal worker, and former federal worker, too, but there are seven hundred and eighty data elements in every logical record of that database. We’re talking about a lot more than their address, we’re talking about every address where they have ever lived. And we’re talking about more than just their gender, age, birthday and marital status, no doubt about it. Those hackers got everyone’s Social Security Number, military service records, medical conditions, legal encounters, employment record and salary history, and God knows what else database designers can fit into seven hundred and eighty data fields.”
Horn blanched white as a sheet. “Christ Almighty,” he murmured, “I’m [expletive] toast.”
“And here’s the toast,” Hardart sneered, raising his glass on high, “right here. To my esteemed former federal client! As we say at Microsoft, ‘Thanks for all the money, sucker!’ Parting will be such sweet sorrow!”
After that, it took me the better part of minute to physically restrain Horn from getting at Hardart’s throat. Hardart, for his part, found the entire performance extremely amusing. “Yeah, that’s it, Collins,” he taunted, “no point in having your idiot bureaucrat buddy spend the night in the DC jail when he’s getting transferred to Devil’s Island next week!”
“I could quit!” Horn growled as I discreetly wrestled him back down onto his bar stool.
“And work at a Walmart! Maybe, if they’d have you!” Hardart chuckled. “Who else would hire a former member of the United States Civil Service? If ever there was a lamer, more pathetic bunch of disgustingly incompetent, asinine, half-witted bozos, I’d sure like to see it! And you know what? If the American taxpayers ever found out what a reeking pile of rank, stinking [expletive] you all are, they’d come down here to Washington DC and…”
“Don’t say it!” I interrupted. “Just… don’t… say… one... more… word, okay? Now – you both have had a couple of drinks, and so have I. That we know. And we also know that just about every piece of vital information about every single present and former federal employee has been stolen by somebody. In addition, we know that there are a lot of self-serving politicians on Capitol Hill talking out of school about who did it, and there are plenty of people like that in the White House, too, and the culprit du jour is China. Well, let me tell you something, guys – that’s horse hockey.”
“Really?” Horn shuddered. “Who was it then?”
“The Russian Mafia, of course.” I told him. “I mean, think about it – what would the Chinese government do with the personal details of four million US federal employees? It’s not like China needs more money from us, is it? And you’re telling me the Chinese government would let Chinese criminals hack into US government databases? Hell, no! As far as the Chinese government is concerned, those databases are their turf, not some Shanghai gangsters playground! And the Chinese government already has us in hock for about a trillion dollars, don’t they? But the Russian Mafia? Come on, give me a break here – could Putin use some kickbacks from them to keep the Russian economy going? Of course he could! Actually, if you think about it, the whole thing’s totally obvious!”
“Maybe,” Horn timidly suggested, “but regardless of who did it, if I could… recommend something… anything… to my superiors about how to avoid having this happen again, I could possibly save my Civil Service career from complete and utter disaster. Tom, please, you’re the smartest person in Washington…”
“Which is a lot,” I reminded him, “like being the tallest building in Baltimore.”
“Baltimore?” Hardart exclaimed, gesturing derisively at Horn. “Ha! They don’t call ’em ‘Baltimorons’ for nothing! The businesses, universities and hospitals there are even bigger rubes for the Microsoft shills than these federal cretins are!”
Another minute or so, and I again had Horn back in his seat. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut all three of you gentlemen off,” the bartender announced, “and ask you two” he continued, indicating Horn and Hardart, “to leave.”
“No need to ask,” Hardart snorted as he swaggered away, “I was just about to, anyhow.”
“All right, all right,” Horn said, throwing up his hands in a gesture of complete futility and surrender, “I’m leaving. But before I do, Tom, tell me – what can I say to my bosses tomorrow morning that will restore my credibility as OPM’s foremost cyber-security expert?”
“For starters,” I advised as I tossed off the remainder of my single malt scotch and made ready to follow Hardart out of the Round Robin Bar into the lobby of the Willard Hotel, “tell them to trash all that shoddy imitation Microsoft garbage and get some real software to run the United States government with.”